Sunday, May 17, 2009

Providence - 04/28/2009

5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

I can't believe it is already time for the 2009 5x5 Chef's Collaborative Dinner Series. The 5x5 dinner series provides an opportunity for chefs to build stronger relationships with peers in the LA area and beyond. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the dinner benefits a good cause. The last two years the Southern California Special Olympics has been the recipient of that largess.

As the name suggests, there are 5 core chefs who will each host a dinner in their restaurants. The five are Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Josiah Citrin of Melisse, Neal Fraiser of Grace, David LeFevre of Water Grill, and Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria and Minestrato Trattoria. The five are also joined by five guest chefs, one at each restaurant. The visiting chef for the first dinner is Alessandro Stratta of Alex in the Wynn in Las Vegas.

For some reason the Providence dinner seems to draw a particularly large crowd. This year we were left waiting for a good half our after our reservation time. Under normal circumstances this wouldn't be a problem but the restaurant is so packed they even seated diners in the bar leaving us with no place to wait without being in the way. Our party ended up being particularly large with 15 people. However since we were unable to get the private dining room so we had to split into two tables so in effect it was more like two separate parties

Amuse Bouche - by Michael Cimarusti, Providence
One constant of the 5x5 dinner is the amuse is always provided by the host restaurant. Like last year, Chef Cimarusti offered a quartet of single bite dishes that highlight his style of cooking.
*Hokkaido Scallop with Sriracha and Crispy Rice - The smooth texture of the scallop contrasts with the crisp rice though the soft flavor of the shellfish is somewhat dulled by the rice which had a flavor reminiscent of shrimp chips.
*Uni on a Tomato - The flavor of the tomato clashes with the sweetness of uni, bringing the brininess of the roe into focus.
*Greyhound Cocktail Spherification - The Greyhound is basically grapefruit juice and vodka. This course was somewhat out of place compared with the rest of the amuses, lacking a seafood element and any sharp contrast of texture or flavor. Still I enjoyed the almost violent explosion of cool liquid and the ensuing burst of fresh citrus.
*Tasmanian Sea Trout with Crispy Salmon Skin and Soy Sauce Crème Fraîche - The salmon skin was the dominant flavor component here with the trout providing a soft tender texture and some weight to the skin.

01: Hamachi Sashimi - Ton Buri, Asian Pear, Red Radish and Fennel by David LeFevre, Water Grill
Taittinger, Cuvée Prestige
It felt a bit strange getting another raw fish course after so soon after the amuse but the sashimi was a very dense example of hamachi with a firm texture and heavier oiliness, with the stronger flavors the fish stood well on its own or with the herbaceous radish and fennel. I enjoyed the contrast with the warm Dungeness crab and shiso tempura though the crab was a touch fishy. The Taittinger was very elegant, the light dry flavor was a superb pairing with the sashimi.

02: Shellfish "Printanière" - Santa Barbara Prawns, Abalone, Japanese Sword Squid, Clams, Lemongrass-Shellfish Emulsion by Josiah Citrin, Mélisse
Riesling Kabinett, "Serrig Würtzberg" Bert Simon 1998
Josiah shows a bit more flair this time around than last year, offering a complex multifaceted course that masterfully captures the essence of spring. Wonderful vibrant colors abound tantalizing the eyes before even before you taste the first bite. The shellfish is exemplary, fresh snappy shrimp, meaty squid, and firm abalone all share a lovely sweetness, but taken together actually accentuated the subtle differences.

03: Sautéed Wild Striped Bass - White Carrot Purée, Nettles, Fava Beans, Fennel Pollen by Neal Fraser, Grace
Chardonnay, Hartford Court "Four Hearts Vineyards" 2005
Now we come to cooked fish, the bass is nicely done the crisp skin serves as the main source of flavor and the nice flaky texture of the fish stands up well to the crispness of the skin. The fish would have been simple on its own but the sweetness of the puree and the bitter nettles kept the dish interesting. I am not a big fan of chardonnay and this was a particularly grassy example on its own. However with the fish, the wine tempered down, with the buttery oak coming to the fore.

04: Barley Timbale - Peas, Artichokes, Foie Gras, Mushroom Sauce by Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria
Pino Nero, "Meczan" J. Hofstätter 2007
My first taste of this immediately reminded me of the Sault Farrow at Robuchon. The strong flavor of barley was a touch overwhelming on its own but tempered well by the vegetables. The foie gras was cooked so to a buttery soft consistency and it's rich savoriness was a welcome addition to the dish. I particularly enjoyed the pino paired with the dish, a complex medley of smoke and fruit that was light enough to balance with the wine.

05: Roasted Duck "Apicius" - Spiced Pineapple, Rhubarb and Celery Root by Alex Stratta, Alex
Grenache, Domaine de la Pertuisane 2005
After a seafood heavy meal the last savory was a duck breast that was served with heavy emphasis on fruit accents. The duck breast was wonderfully tender very reminiscent of Chinese roast duck with the way the richness of the bird takes center stage. I liked taking a bit of the spiced pineapple between bites but most found it too powerful for the bird.

06: Un Café à Bordeaux - Canelé Ice Cream, Coffee Parfait and Toasted Hazelnuts by Adrian Vasquez, Providence
Vin Santo, Antinori 2005
The cake is dusted with coat of espresso powder and filled with a decadent creamy center. The bitterness of the coffee heightened the sweetness of the ice cream. Excellent use of the hazelnut to add a textural twist and bridge the flavors of the cake and ice cream. Adrian Vasquez is one of the strongest pastry chefs in LA, and this dish exemplified his skills brilliantly.

We were brought two series of chocolate bonbons. The first trio consisted of dark chocolate with coffee and erfah, milk chocolate with coconut green tea, and white chocolate with kalamansi. The restaurant only had three lollipops left by the time we were done with dinner so we gave them to the three members of our party who hadn't tried them before, though aside from Kevin, they were pretty poorly received. The other diners got another trio of chocolates: dark chocolate with erfah and coffee, milk chocolate with hazelnut and jelly (like a fancy PB&J), and white chocolate with apricot and saffron.

Aside from the uncomfortable wait, this year's 5x5 feels a bit more polished with more of a logical progression through the courses than there was last year. However I felt the chefs played it a touch safer this year around; last year's dishes seemed to be a bit more innovative like the chefs threw caution to the wind and were really having fun with it. I am looking forward to the rest of the dinner series; it is a pity I won't be able to make the next dinner at Melisse.


Food, she thought. said...

I just woke up, and now I want seafood for breakfast. Thanks A LOT!!!

That Tasmanian sea trout and the barloey timbale dish both look so delicious!

Tangbro1 said...

A seafood breakfast sounds great I know where you can get an awesome one in Tokyo.

I hope you get to make it to one of the 5x5 dinners this year.